Illustration: Marisa MarchettoBy Suzy Welch
About a year ago, I bumped into a friend whose daughter, Amanda, used to drive me a little crazy when she was in high school. Not because she committed any of the typical teenage transgressions but because she was perfect. She got great grades, made captain of two teams, played violin in the school orchestra, and was completely down-to-earth and cheerful to boot. So it was with trepidation, as the mother of mere mortals, that I asked after this girl-by then a college graduate working at a well-known company.
"Oh my God, she is terrible," came the grief-stricken reply. "Her life is in ruins. She has a bad boss."
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Instantly, my heart broke for Amanda. She had joined the ranks of humankind.
"Well, it happens to all of us," I told her mother sadly.
"I know-I went through it," she said with a sigh. "But I just quit and married Bill. Amanda doesn't have a Bill. She has only herself."
Exactly. Some of the most successful careers I've seen have been born of women who overcame one of life's scariest job situations, the very bad boss. The experience changes you, but it can also help you become more at home-and at peace-with yourself and your work.
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That may sound Pollyanna-ish. I know bad bosses can make each day feel like a little battle for your soul, but my research into women's careers has convinced me that there is a viable road from office hell to happy ending. It's not an easy process-it requires focusing more time and attention on a very frustrating situation and, hardest of all, taking yourself out of the vortex of victimhood.
Yes, victimhood. Because I would make the case that bad bosses are a choice. They can put your "life in ruins," to quote Amanda's mother, only if you let them. To prevent that, you can start by answering four questions.
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1. Who's the bad one-really?
This question requires an unnatural act: a brutally candid conversation with yourself. Bad bosses obviously exist, but most managers are not critical, bullying, or withholding with people they like and respect. If your boss is being a jerk to you, the first thing you need to do is ask yourself if there is something about your performance or attitude that is engendering the behavior.
Start with the monster in the middle of the room-your results. If you're not performing up to expectations, even if you believe something outside your control is to blame, know that your boss has had to explain your underperformance to his bosses, an unpleasant experience that can quickly turn to resentment toward you.
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Next you need to double-check your self-examination by tactfully extracting information about your performance from your boss. Prepare to be shocked. I once had a coworker with tremendous results who complained to our boss that she felt underappreciated. She emerged from the meeting reeling. "He said I lied to him three years ago," she said, "about a little thing on my expense account. He never forgave me."
On the other hand, you might come out of your review having been told that your performance is acceptable. He may even say he likes you, and be completely unaware that his disorganization or temper is a problem for you. Nevertheless, you've confirmed that your boss's behavior is not about you. He or she is just a bad boss, and you must ask the following question...
KEEP READING: How to Deal With the Boss from Hell
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